UPDATE: Pavel Ustinov has been released with conditions. PEN America continues to call for all charges to be dropped.

(New York, NY) – The imprisonment of Russian actor Pavel Ustinov on trumped-up charges is a blatant attack on free expression and aimed at intimidating anyone who opposes the current government, PEN America said in a statement today. 

On September 16, a Russian court sentenced Ustinov to three and a half years after he was wrongly convicted of assaulting a Russian police officer during a peaceful Moscow demonstration in August. Despite video evidence showing that Ustinov was uninvolved of the assault, a judge ordered his sentence based solely on testimony from a police officer. Ustinov has repeatedly said he was not involved in the demonstration and was in the area for a meeting.

“Pavel’s absurd sentence is a demonstration of the Russian government’s cruelty, and disregard for human dignity and the rule of law, even to the extent of  refusing to watch the video proving Pavel’s innocence,” said PEN America’s Polina Kovaleva, the organization’s Eurasia project director. “Russia continues its brutal repression of the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and it has to stop. Pavel’s case once again proves that the artistic community is in particular danger, as self-expression lies in the core of their personal and professional existence. It is heartening to see Pavel’s fellow artists standing up in his defense, despite the risks.  We join them in demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Pavel Ustinov and others unjustly detained or imprisoned for exercising their right to free expression.” 

Moscow has recently been the site of protests and rallies against the unconstitutional ban on independent candidates for the Moscow elections which took place on September 8. Thousands of people took to the streets despite the threat of being illegally detained and beaten by police officers, often facing incarceration and fines. On July 27, for instance, police detained more than 1,300 people. Thirteen remain in custody or have already been convicted under laws banning riots, including Ustinov as well as student Egor Zhukov, computer programmer Konstantin Kotov, and library technician Ivan Podkopayev.

PEN America today said it condemns the actions of the Russian government against protesters, and that no one should be imprisoned for peaceably demonstrating against the government. PEN America is closely monitoring threats to free expression in Russia among artists, writers, and journalists. Read more about the recent release of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and the recent arrest of Russian journalist Ivan Golunov.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892